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|1679: St Alban's
Cathedral, Pretoria, South Africa
St Alban's Cathedral, Pretoria, South Africa.
Anglican Church of
Southern Africa, Diocese
A large brown stone building. The chancel dates from 1910 and
is the work of the English architect Sir Herbert Baker, whose
beautifully designed buildings grace many South African towns
and cities. Work on the remainder of the cathedral (nave, cloisters
and tower) did not get underway until 1955. The interior is
rather plain for the most part, devoid of statues or candles,
although there is a nice bust of Archbishop Desmond Tutu at
It has seen its share of interesting moments. In 1978, Archbishop
Tutu stated from the pulpit of St Alban's that the Holy Spirit
is not limited to Christianity, and that the Holy Spirit shines
through Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu. At the height of the anti-apartheid
movement, the cathedral served as a rallying point for numerous
demonstrations and marches. Today the cathedral is a favoured
venue for choral and symphonic concerts.
Pretoria is one of South Africa's three capital cities, the
others being Cape Town and Bloemfontein. Each is the seat of
one branch of the government: executive, legislative and judicial,
respectively. The cathedral is right in the middle of the Pretoria
central business district, the traditional centre of government
and commerce, although today most corporate offices, businesses,
shops and government departments huddle together in the malls
of the city's sprawling suburbs. Predictably the neighbourhood
was fairly quiet at this time on a Sunday morning.
I think the priest who led the service was the Revd Leonard
P. Nyakale, assisted by two others whose names I didn't catch.
The date & time:
Sunday, 25 January 2009, 7.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist (said).
How full was the building?
Given the time of the service, the numbers were fairly small
and sensibly a side chapel was used, which was full by the time
the service started. Chairs had to be fetched to accommodate
latecomers. The congregation were a refreshing mix of ages and
Did anyone welcome you
I was fairly early, and no one greeted me personally, though
a deacon (perhaps) did say hello to me in passing on entering
the cathedral. I helped myself to the books and leaflets arranged
at the entrance to the side chapel. After I had taken up my
seat at the back, one of the attendants asked me if I would
please use the draw-strings to open the high window behind me.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew wasn't too bad, though after 30 minutes the day was
already getting warm, and inevitably my shirt was starting to
stick to the back.
How would you describe the pre-service
Silent, calm and intimate, as the chapel is not large.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning, and welcome to our service."
What books did the congregation use during the
The books on the table were The Holy Bible, An
Anglican Prayer Book, and Songs of Fellowship,
which I assumed (mistakenly) that I would not need, as this
was a "said eucharist."
What musical instruments were played?
There were no instruments – the singing was unaccompanied, and
led by a single cantor in the congregation. Though a said eucharist,
there was singing at the peace, the communion and at the end.
Did anything distract you?
Once near the end there was the ubiquitous “Nokia tune” from
somebody's mobile, and also there seemed to be some departure
from the order in the prayer book, which caused a certain amount
of page rustling (from me, at least!). And I was surprised to
encounter another version of the Lord's Prayer that I was unfamiliar
with (would be nice to standardise this one day!). Also, as
the chapel was quite full, I found it difficult to take notes
without being observed.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
The service was fairly faithfully traditional, but no bells
or incense, so it was all quite different from my home church,
which is high Anglo-Catholic. However, there was some clapping
at the end – about which more later.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Well crafted and scholarly, whilst quite conversational and friendly. No fire and brimstone, thankfully.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Following the gospel reading (Mark 1:14-20 – “I will make you
fishers of men”) the sermon elaborated on how God calls on us
to proclaim our faith in whatever our walk of life, and calls
people in different ways – there is scope of demonstrating our
Christianity whatever our walk of life.
Which part of the service was like being in
Overall the service followed familiar format and words, with
a few unfamiliar elements – one of which was the far more enthusiastic
sharing of the peace than I have seen in other churches. I think
everyone was trying to offer peace with everyone else (certainly
the priest was) and it contained more genuine warmth than most
of the European churches I have experienced, Anglican or Catholic.
There was a certain amount of hugging and kissing, but this
seemed only to be amongst friends.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Well “the other place” is going a bit far, but I have to confess
to being a bit taken aback at the invitation at the very end:
“Would any visitors please stand up and introduce themselves.”
I had not experienced this before, and had to resist dashing
for the door. So I spoke up briefly, but I think a more shy
individual could have been rather discomfited by the experience.
(I am happy to report that I did not divulge my agent identity,
nor the location of the Ship's secret headquarters.) After the
visitors, those with a birthday were invited to reveal themselves
also, and were treated to a clappy a cappella round
of Happy Birthday. Anther mild annoyance was my failure to pick
up a copy of Songs of Fellowship, and hence my inability
to join in the singing, of which admittedly there was not much.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I lurked about the cathedral but no one approached me.
How would you describe the after-service
Regrettably, a prior engagement meant I couldn't stay for this,
but after-service tea and coffee were available, which seemed
to be standard supermarket fare, served in sturdy earthenware
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 The service had a pleasant and welcoming atmosphere.
Personally I prefer a slightly more high-church tradition –
incense, bells and candles – but this was perfectly acceptable.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. Particularly refreshing was the genuine warmth evident
in the sharing of peace, and the range of ages and races present.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I think I will remember most the slight panic of suddenly having
to stand up in front of strangers and explain myself; not because
it was particularly unpleasant, but because I had not experienced
it before in a church.
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